Can you walk us through what happened the early part of the winter in terms of what you were and weren't able to do with your shoulder, and what dictated when you were able to get back into the lineup?
"Basically they said that I should be able to be back playing about a year after my surgery, which happened to be February 3 of last year. I was really excited to be back on time and ready to go. Unfortunately, depending on the way the body is healing, sometimes it ends up being between a 12- to 18-month progression to be back and ready to go. I was throwing about 90 feet with a lot of pain when we first started the year. I tried to jump in there early in practice, but what ended up happening about three weeks into the season when I was trying to play: I dove for a ball, came back up and it popped again. That pushed me further back in my recovery process, which caused me not to play. My anxiety and anticipation wanting to play so bad actually ended up pushing my injury back farther, but I needed to test it to see how it was. It feels great right now. It feels much better than it ever has been. It keeps getting better every single day."
"It's a really tough thing mentally to watch your team. I had to sit out and watch last year's team when I was ready to go, having that taken away from me two weeks before the season and having to have surgery. But coming back now has made my love for the game so much stronger. Hopefully we can pull it together as a team, and hopefully I can be an asset for us."
Can you replay for me how the injury happened last winter?
"I had dislocated my shoulder tons of times between freshman and sophomore years. I ended up dislocating my shoulder 12 times before my surgery. Basically I was hitting in an intersquad game about two weeks before the season. I swung and missed on a change-up; my shoulder dislocated. I popped back into place and kept playing the rest of the day."
"I woke up the next morning and didn't have any feeling in my pinky and ring finger in my right hand - my throwing hand. I came out to practice and tried to throw. The more I got into practice and the more I worked out, the more feeling I was losing in my hand. When I was throwing the ball from shortstop across, I wasn't making accurate throws. My arm didn't hurt, but I couldn't physically hold a bat. I kept trying to play through out and eventually got an MRI done, and that revealed that my labrum was severely torn, and I needed to get that fixed to continue for a professional career. I wanted to play that year but honestly just could not physically do it. It was really tough for me to sit and have surgery, but it was something I needed to get done. I promised the team I would be back the next year 100 percent, and that's what I'm trying to do."
When was it this year that you dove and reinjured the shoulder?
"It was in practice, maybe two weeks into the season. Probably the week after the Fullerton series. I was trying to come back by Texas. I dove, and it just didn't feel too great. I was having even more pain throwing, so I had to take a couple weeks off. Ever since that time period where I took a couple weeks off and let the shoulder settle down a little bit, it's felt a lot better."
Did that actually dislocate your shoulder again?
"No, it's something the doctors have actually called a good thing. The popping sensation was breaking scar tissue. When you have surgery, it builds a bunch of scar tissue to protect the shoulder. That scar tissue through physical therapy gets broken up over time. What that did was that it broke a bunch up at one time. It kind of freaked me out. It tensed up my shoulder a little bit, causing the nerves to be inflamed and caused me more pain. But it ended up being a good process because I would have had to work that scar tissue out anyways to throw."
The decision to play you at second base instead of shortstop, that simply reflected the distance for you to throw and the strength of your arm this winter?
Would you say that playing and strengthening your arm the past month, is it getting to where it was your sophomore year?
"Not yet. I'm still working at it. I would say it's about 80 to 85 percent, right now. I can turn double plays. I can make throws from the hole in second base. It's jut the consistency throwing from the hole at shortstop - that's the one issue I have. Short distance throws, as we have seen the last few games, sometimes I have trouble with the feel of it because I haven't played a lot of second base. I obviously haven't thrown for a year in a game. All of that stuff is getting better with time. I anticipate getting back to shortstop within the next couple of weeks. I would like to be able to do that because that's where I feel most comfortable."
I want to talk to you about fielding. You had three errors in the Arizona State series. How much of that was the shoulder, and how much was just making an error in the field?
"One of them was a fielding error. It was a hard-hit ball to my left, and it just handcuffed me a little bit. That's on me, and I need to get my body in front of it. The other two errors that I made on the Saturday game, I never want to credit to my shoulder. I'm not the type of person who wants to blame it all on my shoulder. It's my fault for not getting my feet in the position that I should have had them in. But it doesn't help when I don't have much feel for making that throw. I have made that double-play turn throw twice now from second base and thrown the ball away. It's just something that I need to work on. It doesn't feel good when I make that play, but at the same time, it's my responsibility to prepare and not let the team down in that situation. I don't want to accredit that at all to my shoulder. I just need to get back on the horse and keep making that throw so that I can make it in a game."
What would you say right now is your biggest challenge defensively that you're trying to shore up?
"I would say consistency of throws on the run and off-balance throws. When I field the ball and have balance in my feet, I can fire it over there and have no problem. Throws on the run are the most difficult, especially since I'm not used to making them at second base. I think at shortstop, I'd feel a little more comfortable making throws on the run because I have had the feel for that before. Not only am I battling the weakness of my shoulder, but I'm also battling a position that I've never played before. The combination of those things make those off-balance throws difficult for me, but they're something I need to work on and hopefully get better with time."
As a senior who has been on a number of Stanford rosters, can you put your finger on why this team has had so many errors this year? You guys had 11 in the ASU series and went the first 17 games of the year with at least one error...
"We have a lot of younger guys, especially in the infield. We have sophomores at the corners most of the time, with [Brent] Milleville and [Jason] Castro at first and [Cord] Phelps at third. Sometimes [Ryan] Seawell is in there, which helps, but he's never played third base before. We have [Adam] Gaylord, who is doing a great job as a freshman at shortstop. He has outperformed what he should have done as a freshman. I think that we get a little bit nervous, to be honest. I think the underclassmen have yet to establish their role as an everyday player. And we're getting to the point where bodies are getting tired. In high school, they ended up playing 28 games, but only in the matter of a five-month period. Now they're playing that in a two-month period. I don't think we've really caught our second wind yet, especially the defense. But we continue to work hard at it and take live infield every single day. We're a lot better defensive team than people give us credit for. We will make the diving plays. We will make the plays that give us a second chance. We just haven't felt really comfortable yet. And with our pitching staff struggling right now, it's really hard to get a rhythm in the field. If you talk to any baseball player, you realize that when a pitcher is going 1-2-3 every inning, it's a lot easier making plays than when there are people on base and there are constantly tough situations for us. But we need to step up and help our pitching staff. Hopefully we can do that soon."
Can you describe what happened in those ASU games in particularly, or more globally from this season - what happens to the psyche of guys in the field where there is another error? Is there a negative snowball of confidence that you guys feel out there?
"Absolutely. You hit it on the head right there. I think what's happening to us is that we get behind in the game. Not only does that affect our defense, where you walk the first couple guys in the inning and now say, 'I have to make this play. Hit the ball to me; I'll make the play.' That's not how you want to play defense. You want to play defense with confidence, be relaxed and say, 'If you hit the ball to me, I'll make the play,' instead of: 'I need to make the play.' The same type of snowball affects our hitters. We're down five runs in the third inning, which becomes 'I need to hit a double here. I need to hit a home run here.' Instead of: 'You know what? On 3-1, maybe I won't swing at that outside fastball and roll over. Maybe I'll take it and get a walk.' I don't think we have enough trust yet in each other's ability to do that because we're so young."
"But to be honest, we have an extreme amount of talent in pitching, defense and hitting. I know a lot of people have been complaining about a lack of talent, but I've been here for years and can tell you that we have an extreme amount and depth of talent. It's almost a curse of having too much talent because my freshman and sophomore years, you had nine guys who knew they were going to play. The rest of the guys knew they were on the bench and knew they were going to wait their turn. Now we have 15 or 16 guys who legitimately think they should be out there playing, so it's a really difficult decision for the coaches of who should be playing. You have players nipping at your heels if you make an error. We have a lot of excess pressure we need to get rid of. I think what we need to work on mentally is that the nine guys who are out there playing need to realize that they are the guy of the hour - have some confidence to go out there and do it."
You talk about how young the infield and the team is overall. Once you get healthy, what is your individual strategy as the lone everyday senior and veteran in the infield to help pick this up?
"Just to pick the confidence up. As an underclassman, the pressure is going to get to you a little bit more. If I go 0-for-4 or make two errors in a game, I don't get rattled by it because I realize that's just baseball. I realize that I've been through games like that before, and it does get better, no matter how much weight is placed on your shoulders. I think as long as we keep confidence up... I think the one thing I can provide for this team is a little bit of perspective. Yeah, we're 0-6 in the Pac-10 right now. Yeah, we have a losing record. But that doesn't mean that we're not going to make the playoffs, and it doesn't mean that we can't show well in the Pac-10. It doesn't mean that we can't go out there and sweep anybody or beat anybody on a given day. We enough talent to do that, so I just have to keep portraying that to everybody on the team - that we do have a good shot to turn this season around. We're halfway through the year, so just keep working hard and trust the system. Trust the program. 'Nine' has been here for 31 years; trust the system that we're going to come back and win. Keep believing in that and yourself, and we'll turn this around."
How are you feeling at the plate? You're hitting right at about .400. Is hitting something that you can do physically faster, coming back from the shoulder surgery, than working in the field?
"It was difficult for me at the start of the year, when I was put into a DH role or pinch-hitting role. I think that's difficult for anybody. I hadn't seen live pitching in a game for more than a year. But as I've been talking about before, confidence is such a great thing in the game of failure in baseball. That's basically what it's all about. Once I got out into the field, that gave me a huge boost of confidence that my game was back to where it should be. Therefore, that has carried over at the plate. Yeah, I've been seeing the ball really well as of late. Hopefully I can continue to keep that up, and some other guys can see the ball the same way. Then we can start to get some hits together in the same inning, provide some runs and put a 'W' up on the board."
You say that you're seeing the ball better. Is it as simple as that? You're riding a 12-game hitting streak back to March 4 and hitting .396...
"[laughs] Baseball is such a mental game. I try to go into every game with the same approach, with the same relaxed attitude. I'm just trying to help this team win. If I snap my 12-game hitting streak getting four walks in a game, that's perfectly okay for me. Averages and things like that are things that I have never really been concerned about. That's all going to even out in the end. I'm just trying to help our team win - if I'm trying to move runners over or if I can bunt for us. We just need to get some 'W's on the board, and that will help get everybody's average up there. You just have to be confident in your ability to play the game, be relaxed and just trust it. I haven't played in a year, and I think a lot of people would put pressure on themselves in that situation. But you have to have the mental confidence and the mental strength to get up there in the box, and know that it's you against the pitcher - you have to get the job done every time. I think that's helped me a lot."
"Also, I've learned so much mentally about the game after being out for a year. It's been a blessing to me. You can get caught up in going 0-for-4. If I go 0-for-4, I'm just so happy to be out on the field. That's been a blessing to me, to realize how the game had been taken away. That's actually made me a stronger player, especially mentally, which might be why I'm seeing the ball so well at such an early phase coming back from an injury like that."
Holistically, what do you think is separating this team and the way it is playing now from the one that put up an eight-game winning streak earlier in the season?
"I think it's just confidence. I really do. When I was a freshman, no matter, every time we stepped out onto the field, our guys just took the approach that we're going to win this game. There's no question. The other team knew it. Our coaching staff knew it. Our fans knew it. I think that this team hasn't yet gotten its identity. Because you don't have returning players - a core group of guys - who know how to get the job done, I think we're struggling a little bit to know what to do to get those 'W's even when we're not playing well. You need to have confidence, even when you're not pitching well. We go down eight runs my freshman year, and we would still have the same confidence that, 'We're going to put up eight runs. No big deal. So what? We have eight innings to do it.' Whereas this team still has to find its identity. Slowly but surely, we have the talent to be able to do that. And I think we will - we'll turn it around."
I saw after one of the losses the other week, you gathered the team players-only on the field and had some strong words from them. What are you trying to instruct to these younger guys?
"Basically, just get your head up. Nobody likes to be part of a losing team. 'Nine' doesn't like losing, and that's obvious. None of these guys like losing. But once you lose a game, you need to learn to leave that on the field. There is absolutely nothing you can do about it. You tear yourself apart after the game. You tear your hair out. You complain about it. You moan about it, but there's nothing really you can do. You need to realize that tomorrow is a new day, and you get up every single morning and do what you can do that day to win that ballgame. Basically what I had to say to them is, 'As of right now, it can't get much worse, so it needs to get better. Keep believing in the system. Keep believing in the program. It will get better. If you get frustrated, it's going to get worse. It's only going to get worse, if we keep frustrated and keep playing the way we've been playing. Keep your heads up. Keep playing well. It's going to turn around.'"
Last question - you're listed on the roster as a junior with playing eligibility. I know it's only halfway through the season, but what are you going to be doing next year?
"I don't know. It's one of those things where I'm going to have to see how it works out in the draft. I would not be afraid at all to come back here to play another year. That was my goal coming back because you never know how your shoulder is going to hold up. I don't even know if it's going to be 100 percent by the end of the season, which some professional teams might hold against me. However, if that's something that I need to do, I can go ahead and get a master's. I'm going to get my degree after this year, and I have no problem coming back to get my master's. I would love to come back and play for 'Nine' again another year, and hopefully come back out and win a College World Series, which is one of my goals. If we don't win it this year, I can come back next year and do it. If the draft works out well for me, that's also something that I'm excited about. Either way, I feel blessed to be in the situation that I'm in, and I'm excited to be listed as a junior and have the opportunity to come back for another year."
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